Struggling to lose weight? You may be considering newer medications like Ozempic and Saxenda. But with both touting weight loss benefits, how do you choose between them? This can be a frustrating dilemma when you want to improve your health but don't know where to start.
This guide will outline the key distinctions between the two drugs. You'll discover their approved uses, effectiveness for diabetes and weight loss, cost and availability on the NHS, and potential side effects. Arm yourself with the facts so you can have informed discussions with your healthcare provider about what's right for your situation.
Ozempic vs Saxenda: What's the difference?
While Ozempic and Saxenda are both GLP-1 receptor agonists used for weight loss, there are some key differences between these two medications:
- Approved Uses - Ozempic is approved for treating type 2 diabetes, while Saxenda is specifically approved for chronic weight management.
- Active Ingredients - Ozempic contains semaglutide, whereas Saxenda contains liraglutide. Both work similarly but are chemically distinct compounds.
- Dosing - Ozempic is given as a 0.5mg or 1mg injection once weekly. Saxenda starts at 0.6mg daily and increases to 3mg daily over time. 
- Weight Loss Effects - Both can promote weight loss, but Ozempic is more effective for blood sugar control while Saxenda may result in slightly more weight loss.
- NHS Availability - Ozempic is available through some NHS CCGs but Saxenda is generally not covered. Saxenda is only obtainable via private prescription.
- Cost - Both vary depending on where you get them from but a private prescription is likely to cost you around £200-300 per month.
- Side Effects - They have similar side effects like nausea, but Saxenda may have slightly lower GI side effects. Saxenda also has a higher risk of heart rate increase.
While they have similarities, Ozempic is geared more specifically to diabetes treatment while Saxenda is designed solely for weight management.
Ozempic vs Saxenda: What are they?
Definition and Medical Uses of Ozempic
Ozempic is a brand-name prescription medication containing the active ingredient semaglutide. Semaglutide belongs to a class of medications called GLP-1 receptor agonists and is administered via a once-weekly injection.
Ozempic was approved for use in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in 2018 for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in adults. It helps lower blood sugar levels by stimulating the release of insulin when blood sugar is high.
How Ozempic Works in the Body
When injected, Ozempic mimics the effects of a hormone called GLP-1 that is released naturally by the body after eating. GLP-1 slows digestion and prevents the liver from releasing too much glucose into the bloodstream.
Ozempic binds to receptors in the pancreas to increase insulin production. This improves the body's ability to control blood sugar levels. Ozempic also decreases appetite, leading to weight loss, which further helps manage type 2 diabetes. 
Eligibility for Using Ozempic
Ozempic can be prescribed by NHS GP's and private healthcare providers in the UK as an adjunct treatment for type 2 diabetes in adults who have not been able to control their blood sugar with diet, exercise, and other diabetes medications.
It may be prescribed for patients with a BMI of 27 or higher who have at least one weight-related condition like hypertension or high cholesterol. Those with a history of pancreatitis should not take Ozempic.
A doctor will determine if Ozempic is appropriate for a patient based on their medical history and current health status. Blood sugar testing and monitoring of side effects are required while using this medication.
Definition and Medical Uses of Saxenda
Saxenda is a brand-name prescription medication containing the active ingredient liraglutide. Like Ozempic, liraglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist taken via injection.
Saxenda was approved for use in the UK by the MHRA in 2015 as an adjunct treatment for chronic weight management in obese adults or adults who are overweight with at least one weight-related condition such as hypertension.
How Saxenda Works in the Body
When injected, Saxenda mimics natural GLP-1, slowing digestion and suppressing appetite. It binds to receptors in the brain that regulate hunger and fullness. This results in reduced food intake and calorie absorption, leading to weight loss over time.
Saxenda also delays stomach emptying to promote fuller feelings after eating smaller portions. The combination of appetite suppression and delayed gastric emptying aids in weight management.
Eligibility for Using Saxenda
Saxenda can be prescribed by NHS and private doctors in the UK to obese patients with an initial BMI of 30 or greater. It may also be prescribed to overweight patients with a BMI of 27 or higher who have at least one weight-related health issue. 
Saxenda is not recommended for those with a personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma or Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2. Patients should be monitored for potential side effects like pancreatitis.
As with other weight loss medications, Saxenda works best when combined with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. A doctor will determine if a patient is a good candidate based on their health profile.
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Availability and NHS Coverage for Ozempic and Saxenda
NHS Coverage for Ozempic
Ozempic is approved for prescribing on the NHS in England and Wales for some adult patients with type 2 diabetes. Specifically, it may be prescribed if control of blood sugar remains inadequate after 3 months of standard treatments like metformin.
However, NHS coverage varies between clinical commissioning groups. Some CCGs require patients to have a BMI over 35 or specific diabetes complications before covering Ozempic. Restricted NHS availability means many patients need to pursue private prescriptions or other options.
NHS Coverage for Saxenda
Unlike Ozempic, Saxenda does not have general NHS approval and is not routinely available for obesity treatment. Very few CCGs offer Saxenda through individual funding requests due to its high cost.
Patients wanting Saxenda must therefore obtain a private prescription and pay the full cost of the medication out-of-pocket. The monthly cost can exceed £200 in some cases making long-term use challenging without NHS funding.
Alternative Purchasing Options
For patients struggling to get Ozempic or Saxenda through the NHS, alternatives include obtaining private prescriptions or purchasing from reputable online UK-based pharmacies with a prescription. At Habitual we offer Wegovy which like Ozempic is a brand name for semaglutide however, where Ozempic is sold off-label, Wegovy is licensed for weight loss. Read the differences between Wegovy and Saxenda here.
A Wegovy plan through Habitual includes all the tools and support you need to reach your health goals:
- Prescription Wegovy pen, delivered every 4 weeks to your door
- Access to our custom-built habit change and tracking mobile app
- An optional peer support group on WhatsApp
- Daily behaviour change content and exercises to help you make lasting changes
Ozempic Vs Saxenda: Side effects
Some of the more common side effects that may occur when taking Ozempic include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and constipation. These gastro-related side effects are usually mild to moderate and tend to subside after the first few weeks of treatment.
Other possible side effects include headache, fatigue, dizziness, sinus infection, and reactions at the injection site like rash, itching, or irritation. Proper injection technique can help minimise injection site reactions. Staying hydrated and taking anti-nausea medication can also help manage certain side effects.
The most common side effects of Saxenda are gastrointestinal in nature, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, indigestion, and loss of appetite. These tend to be worse when first starting Saxenda but normally improve over time.
Other potential side effects include headache, fatigue, dizziness, increased heart rate, and reactions at the injection site like rash, redness or itching. Proper injection technique and rotation of sites can help reduce injection site reactions.
When it comes to choosing between Ozempic and Saxenda, there are key factors to consider. Both can aid in weight loss and blood sugar control, but they have distinct approved uses and eligibility criteria.
Ozempic is specifically for type 2 diabetes while Saxenda targets weight management. Saxenda may produce slightly more weight loss, but Ozempic better controls blood glucose. Saxenda also comes with more potential risks like increased heart rate.
The NHS provides restricted coverage of Ozempic only in some regions for select diabetes patients. In contrast, Saxenda is generally not NHS approved for obesity. The costs of these drugs vary too, with Saxenda being far more expensive.
By understanding the differences in uses, effectiveness, side effects, availability and costs, patients can have informed discussions with their doctor. The right choice depends on your health status, needs, access and budget. But arming yourself with the facts empowers you to take control of your health.
 Is Saxenda free on the NHS?, Simple Online Pharmacy, retrieved September 4th 2023. Accessible here
 Saxenda® for weight loss, Lloyd’s Pharmacy Online Doctor, retrieved September 4th 2023. Accessible here
 Lingvay, I., Desouza, C., Lalic, K., et al (2018). A 26-Week Randomized Controlled Trial of Semaglutide Once Daily Versus Liraglutide and Placebo in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Suboptimally Controlled on Diet and Exercise With or Without Metformin, Diabetes Care 2018;41:1926–1937. Accessible here